with Jasvir Singh
Sympathy may be our strongest instinct, according
to UC Berkeley researchers. Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and
author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, believes
that humans are successful as a species primarily because of our “nurturing,
altruistic and compassionate traits.”
It seems that humans are genetically predisposed to
be empathetic. In one study, Laura
Saslow, of Oregon State University, and Sarina Rodrigues, of UCB, found that people with a particular variation
of the oxytocin gene receptor are better able to read the emotional state of
others and get less stressed out under difficult circumstances.
known as the “cuddle hormone”) is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain,
where it promotes social interaction, nurturing, romantic love, and more.
"The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single
gene," Rodrigues said.
The beliefs of these
researchers seem to contrast with Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest
evolutionary theories. Therefore, these researchers go on to examine how these
traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers. UC Berkeley
social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer answers this question by
claiming that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield.
investigation, Keitner and his team have found that oxytocin plays a key role
in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, two people were
separated by a barrier and allowed to communicate through touching each other
through a hole in the barrier. Researchers were able to see from activity in
the threat response region of the brain that many female participants grew
anxious. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, oxytocin was
released, calming them immediately.
According to Science Daily,
"This new science of
altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching
up with Darwin's observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our
strongest instinct," Keltner said. Perhaps Darwin’s “survival of the
fittest” theory would be better posited as “survival of the kindest.”